WARNING: I'm plenty pissed off in this post, and when I have big (usually difficult) feelings, I swear. Proceed with caution and skip this post if the F-bomb isn't your thing.
Attending class is one of my favorite ways to study yoga. A good class takes me out of my head and into my body; it provides an opportunity for discovery of postures and sequences I'd never considered or practiced before. It gives me the chance to take a crack at another pose, and to stay humble and detached from whatever result; and it's a pretty powerful way to connect and commune with other seekers in my community.
But some days I can't go to class. Some days I'm too busy trying to get work done, or get ready for something that's happening. I have to work, or I'm sick, or exhausted, or overcommitted.
And some days, the yoga classroom doesn't feel like the easiest space. Sometimes I feel like I don't have it in me to be a part of all the energy that's zinging around in the room. Some days, I feel heavy hearted and furious, and what I need to do is sit and cry a little, and to want at once and the same time to remain nonviolent, to hold compassion for all of us, and to burn the motherfucker down.
Today was one of those days. Rather than experience a continuous level of seethe at my classmates who aren't wearing their dissatisfaction of our social systems on their sleeves like I can't help but do, I decided to stay home and practice alone.
One thing that the last year of training, and the first few months of teaching, have given me is a kind of discipline. The requirements set before me, coupled with the (often difficult) choice to prioritize my study, gave me the chance to spend a lot of time and energy on the physical practice of yoga, as well as to study philosophy, Sanskrit, Ayurveda, samyama and even a bit of what I would call theology. It was a great gift, and an enormous privilege, to be in such deep study; now I am required to continue the study with my own energy as a motor, with my own goals as requirements.
It is not easy. I grew up believing what I was told about myself, that I was undisciplined, even lazy. It seemed true: I burned out easily; I got frustrated when I struggled; I overcommitted plenty, which would leave me rundown and irritable; and I often forgot the simple tasks that I was given. From the outside I must have looked scatterbrained and tetchy.
But I look back and I wonder if that rumor of my un-disciplinedness was true. There's plenty in my life I wouldn't have accomplished without a fair amount of discipline at my disposal. This year, I learned that what some people call discipline really just meant doing what they wanted me to do in their own time frame. Not the same thing at all.
So there's a voice in my head that says staying home from asana class feels is bit of a cheat, but I know it's actually doing the hard thing. The structure of class makes it easier for me to practice, and feel less alone in it. I am buffeted by the collective energy, by considering the sequence, by how cute someone's outfit is. My brain will throw up anything to distract me, and I'll take it. Without the voice of my teacher and the willing bodies and hearts of my colleagues, it's just me, with my practice, on my mat. Whatever I'm feeling, there's no distraction from it; whatever I want to hide from comes into the room with me and stares me in the eye until I acknowledge it.
My friend Adam wrote on social media today, "... the work of peace is something different: work is not abstract, and must respond to conditions in which one is working. Those of us who aspire to peace need to practice social awareness -- what are the circumstances that allow me to enjoy peace, and to lead a life that feels peaceful? more directly: why don't I have to riot?..." I find myself wondering, when will enough be enough? I want to ask my friends in the majority culture, when will you be so done with the murder of unarmed Americans that turning off the news isn't enough, and you have to stand up and demonstrate? I consider my eyes in the mirror, and ask, When will I be in the streets with my fist in the air, and when will my friends be beside me, chanting Om Shanti Shanti Shantih with as much passion and vehemence as we'd chant Hands Up, Don't Shoot?
This morning, I was alone with my confusion, my sadness, my rage, my solidarity. I thought it was best, given those attitudes, that I spend the day inside. In a short while I will travel to another part of my favorite city and humbly set a practice before my students. I will create space for them to wrestle with, or to ignore if they choose to, the feelings that are riding in the air from Baltimore, from Brooklyn, from Ferguson, even from the fucking West Side, into the city center. I will make space for breath and movement, and when we're done, I'll sit and chant, and I'll welcome anyone who wants to stay.
When I leave class, I'll draw on my discipline to remember that working and fighting for change in a corrupt, flawed, ruinous (economic and social) system that has destroyed millions of lives for centuries takes a compassionate heart, long-range vision, and unwavering pursuit of justice. I will be thoughtful and I will be vocal.
And I will keep returning to my mat.